Anniston council selects top choice for city manager

The Anniston City Council voted Wednesday afternoon to offer Brian Johnson the position of city manager.{} Johnson is currently the city manager of Garden City, Georgia, which is near Savannah.

The council brought Johnson to the city Wednesday for an in-person interview, and held a public meet and greet for him at City Hall at noon.{} Less than two hours later, Mayor Vaughn Stewart and council members Jay Jenkins and Millie Harris voted to give Johnson the job.

Council members David Reddick and Seyram Selase voted in favor of the council's other finalist for the position, Gerald Smith of Kansas City, and said he had more experience.{} Smith was in town for a similar interview and public reception Monday.{} The council also voted to offer the position to Smith if they are unable to reach an agreement on terms with Johnson.

"Both of them were obviously qualified but I think [Johnson] brought a different skill set to the table as far as being a game changer.{} I think at this time, in this place in Anniston's history I think that's what this city needs.{} I think the voters voted for that last fall," mayor Stewart said.

"I think he will bring that vision, the ability to unify the staff around that vision. He will give the council good advice and give us an opportunity to get away from the day to day at City Hall so we can do more policy making, visionary work, and setting the tempo," he said.

"I think he's the right person at the right time."

Stewart said Johnson stood out with his creative, outside the box thinking.{} The council{}expects to make a former{}job offer{}next week.{} The city hopes to have a new manager by the beginning of September, but the mayor said Johnson--or Smith--would likely be unavailable until the middle of the month.

The mayor and council were unanimous in stating that selecting a new city manager is the most important decision they will make. Anniston has a council-manager type government, where the city manager is basically a CEO who handles the day-to-day administration and treats the city like a business.

"You have decisions on policy being made by representatives of the people and decisions on administration and practice done by a professional manager," retiring city manager Don Hoyt said.

Hoyt has 33 years of experience and came to Anniston four years ago from Chambers County, where he was the county administrator. He has two education degrees and a master's degree in public administration.

"If it's important to go to a neurosurgeon for a brain problem, you don't go to an orthopedic surgeon or a pediatrician or a football player. You go to a neurosurgeon for a neurological problem. The same is true for management. If you're going to manage an organization, you want experience in management," Hoyt said.

"People who are elected to office don't always know those things. They oftentimes come from different fields. They're teachers, grocery store operators, bar owners, whatever. They don't necessarily have any knowledge of how to implement the policies they want to implement."

That is the job of the city manager and his staff. He said the new city manager will advise the council on the best way to do things. The council determines what they want done, and the manager determines and advises the council on the best way to do it.

Hoyt said his last day providing advice to the council is August 31, and his replacement will not be receiving instructions on what should be done next.

"I don't advise the new guy. If they hire somebody that needs my advice, they've hired the wrong person," he said.

He plans to retire back home to Louisiana, and said his family lives in the same area as the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty. In fact, Hoyt worked with Phil Robertson for three summers during the 1970s, at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park on the Ouachita River.

"During the summertime they would hire teachers to act as temporary park rangers, patrol the parks, keep the kids from tearing up the place. We worked together three years, patrolling those parks. I know he was carving duck callers, at that time he was trying to get one that had the sound he wanted in it," Hoyt said.